World Coins

1703 Vigo Bay gold shipwreck coin rarity in auction

An extremely rare variety of an extremely rare 1703 gold 5-guinea coin of Queen Anne highlights the Feb. 9 St. James’s Auctions sale.

Coin images courtesy of St. James’s Auctions.

A rare example of a rare type of a famous English gold coin is coming to auction.

A 1703 gold 5-guinea coin of Queen Anne, struck from gold seized during a naval victory against Spain, highlights St. James’s Auctions’ No. 35 sale, which is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Graded About Uncirculated 55 by Professional Coin Grading Service, the gold coin carries an estimate of £300,000 to £350,000 (about $439,630 to $512,902 U.S.).

The type is extremely rare, with fewer than 20 examples known struck with the word VIGO below the bust of the queen to indicate the coin was struck from gold seized after a victorious naval battle at Vigo Bay off the coast of Spain.

However, according to the auction house owner Stephen Fenton, the example he has for sale is a much rarer type, with the word VIGO tucked more tightly under the shoulder than on other examples, one of only about three known of this die variety.

The VIGO gold 5-guinea coin of Anne is regarded as one of the most desirable coins in the entire English milled gold series.

The 1703 VIGO gold issues were intended for circulation and comprised half guinea, guinea and 5-guinea pieces. In addition, related silver coins were struck in crown, half-crown, shilling and six-penny denominations in 1703. (Some 1702-dated shillings were also struck.) 

Each of the coins has the usual obverse and reverse types appropriate to its denomination but on the obverse of each denomination, below Queen Anne’s bust, the word VIGO was added, engraved into the die. 

Some 4,500 pounds of silver that had been ornaments and plate belonging to the Spanish and French officers, as well as 7 pounds 8 ounces of gold, were turned into the coins. 

According to Michael Hodder, writing in the Jan. 10, 1994, issue of Coin World, “The VIGO coins struck to commemorate the victory also served as propaganda to persuade the well-to-do British public that the war was both worthwhile and going well.”  

The gold coins struck are all very scarce to very rare and would be beyond the means of most collectors. The silver coins, however, were struck in generally large numbers, as indicated by the amount of metal used. 

The example in the Feb. 9 auction has “delightful reddish gold toning and a bold, even strike,” according to the firm.

Fenton confirmed that this piece is not the example that he bought for a client in 2012. That piece was graded Nearly Very Fine and sold for £296,160 (about $476,871) in a Dec. 6, 2012, auction by Gorringes.

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